Healthy Living

6 things I bet you didn’t know about dietitians

Someone yesterday asked what I did, “I’m a dietitian,” I replied. In response to the confused look on their face I went on to elaborate; “I work in nutrition” I said, and this they understood.

This is not the first, nor I expect, the last time I’ve had to explain what a dietitian is. But what was said next is what inspired me to write this post, “I can’t imagine you’re very busy here in Brussels” and then, after pausing for reconsideration, “well, I guess there are a lot of Americans!”

Don’t even get my started on what annoyed me about this reply! Firstly, this is a prime example of weight stigma, and secondly this person was assuming that as I dietitian I only work with people in larger bodies. Every country across the world has people who are different sizes and shapes. Obesity is a global issue, and not one that is just restricted to industrialised countries either.  Anyway, I digress…this is a topic for a whole other blog post!

The purpose of this post was to highlight what dietitians do (and don’t do), in the hope that one day dietitians everywhere can reply “I’m a dietitian” and get the same smile and nod that people get when they reply “I’m a nurse” or “I’m a website designer.” (Well…a girl can dream!)

1. We are not the food police

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Contrary to popular belief, we will not lock you up and throw away the key if you tell us you have pizza once a week. Nor will you find us chasing our clients, or friends for that matter, away from the chippy/friteur waving a carrot! I have not yet met one dietitian who has told anyone that they can never have chocolate or ice cream again. Luckily for you, our four years of training includes all of that ‘moderation‘ stuff, in fact, we’re pretty good at it! So visit a dietitian and you can expect an empathetic, understanding professional who is hoping to help you.

2. We will not jump on the latest nutritional bandwagon

As dietitians, we are bound by a code of conduct. Dietitians all over the world are governed by different authority boards to ensure that the advice we give is based on robust evidence. This means that our advice isn’t just based on one study released by the college of natural living whose head-office is in a 1970’s portacabin in Nova Scotia! We check the quality of the evidence, duration of the study, sample size, conflicts of interest, where it was published and if other studies have found the same thing. The media may decide that 4 pomegranates a day is going to save your life, but chances are we won’t be recommending that you live on pomegranates until we’ve seen the evidence behind the claim.

3. We work hard to UNCOMPLICATE healthy living

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It’s confusing. There’s lots of conflicting advice and the latest FAD seems to change on a weekly basis. Most of the time dietitians won’t talk nutrients unless there’s a need. We tend to look at the bigger picture and work on the basis that a balanced, varied diet should include all of the vital minerals and vitamins. We’re able to assess someones diet and conclude what they may not be getting enough of, but we’re likely to advise changes in terms of whole foods, not individual nutrients. Of course, there are exceptions if someone has specific symptoms or a deficiency, but generally it’s far less complicated if you think “I should include more fruit and vegetables today” as oppose to “I must increase my magnesium intake.”

4. We don’t just tell people to eat less

I know…amazing, right? Dietitians = diet. Urr, wrong! Firstly, to us, ‘diet’ is all we eat, not a short-term restriction (see my philosophy on diet for more on that). Secondly, we don’t just see people who want to lose weight. Actually, we see quite a lot of people who are struggling to gain weight! You’ll also find us helping people navigate their way round diets associated with allergies, breast-feeding, digestive problems, respiratory diseases…and by no means is that an exhaustive list. Thirdly, even those people we see who do want to lose weight, it’s not like we just sit and regurgitate what we said to the last guy! Every person is unique, that means different lifestyle changes, different goals, different needs, and therefore, often an entirely different and individual focus.

5. We eat cake

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If it’s Sarah’s birthday, chances are we’re not going to say no to her mum’s renowned double chocolate sponge. If it’s a glorious sunny afternoon, you can betcha’ I’d fancy a lovely refreshing beer sat by the lake. WE.ARE.HUMAN.TOO.
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said “oh, I bet you NEVER eat that” …Yawn. I’m a dietitian, a foodie. I love food. It’s one of the reasons I do what I do. Plus, I strongly believe that mental health is just as important as physical health, and if I deprived myself of chocolate every time I wanted some I’d probably not be a very nice person to be around. We just know that we can’t be indulging like that all the time.

6. We do not spend all day in the gym

Generally speaking, we’re actually quite busy people! Whilst we understand the importance of daily exercise, we also know what can happen if we push our bodies too far. Dietitians are not a breed. We are not all born with a stomach like Jessica Ennis and arms like Jennifer Aniston. And, as far as I know, being a certain size or shape isn’t a requirement on any Dietitian application form.

We are happy in the knowledge that what we eat and how we exercise is a balanced mixture of what’s good for the body, and what’s good for the soul.

More information:
World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/obesity/en/

British Dietetic Association (BDA): https://www.bda.uk.com/
BDA: “what do dietitians do?”: https://www.bda.uk.com/improvinghealth/yourhealth/dietitians
European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians: http://www.efad.org/everyone

Healthy Living, Nutrition

What is a Dietitian?

I was wondering what to do for my first blog post, and I thought, where better to start than with what a dietitian does?! Plus, it’s dietitians week…:)

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals who are experts in the field of food and nutrition and the only nutrition professionals who are regulated by law. They are trained in providing evidence-based advice to individuals and groups regarding healthy eating and dietary related disease.

What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The word “dietitian” is a legally protected title. In order to call yourself a dietitian, you have to complete a minimum of BSc Hons in Dietetics. Alternatively, you can study an MSc or post graduate diploma after having completed a related undergraduate science degree. All UK dietetic courses must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and include a minimum number of hours in a hospital gaining practical experience. Practicing dietitians are regulated by the HCPC. They are bound by an ethical code and required to keep up to date with emerging evidence in order to continue providing accurate, evidence-based advice.

Dietitians do not only see people who want to eat healthily or lose weight, they are also trained to give dietary advice to those with specific food related medical conditions including; diabetes, IBS or allergies. Dietitians work with people in the community and those who are acutely ill in hospitals. You can check that your UK dietitian is registered here.

Some nutritionists are registered. This means they have studied a course of a minimum standard (approved by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) in the UK). They are therefore appropriately trained to give advice on food and healthy eating. However, they are not educated in giving advice for specific medical conditions. Unfortunately, ‘nutritionist’ is not protected in the same way as ‘dietitian’ is. Nutritionists who have had the appropriate level of training may have one of the following letters after their name; RNutr (Registered Nutritionist), ANutr (Associate Nutritionist) or FAfN (Fellows of the Association for Nutrition). You can check to see if your UK nutritionist is registered here.

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians can work in a huge variety of settings, including; hospitals, public health, education, food industry, sport, media and freelance. What they do varies widely depending on the area in which they work. Dietitians in hospitals spend time on wards and in clinics, often working as part of a multi-disciplinary team to help with dietary management of disease. Dietitians provide nutritional advice to someone who wants to lose weight, or gain it. They may help someone who has Coeliac disease eliminate gluten from their diet. They may write articles for magazines or work with a football team. The opportunities are almost endless!

Areas in which dietitians are able to give advice include; diabetes, weight management, allergies and intolerances, IBS, eating disorders, paediatrics and mental health. They also provide advice for people with conditions that sometimes require nutritional support including; cancer, stroke, motor neurone disease and HIV/AIDS. If they wish, dietitians are able to choose to specialise in one of these areas too.

What about other “nutrition experts”?

There are people working in nutrition who are not registered dietitians or nutritionists. They may call themselves; nutrition experts, nutritional therapists, diet experts or metabolic advisors. They often give recommendations based on alternative medicine that is not evidence-based or used by regulated practitioners. Many nutrition experts use obscure methods of testing and advise taking supplements to maximise health. These recommendations are not based on credible scientific evidence, are often founded on personal opinions and driven by financial incentives.

Some nutrition experts may have had training to foundation degree level or completed an unregulated course but they are not obliged to register with an overseeing authority. This means that it is a largely unregulated industry where advice given is likely to be inconsistent and unfounded.

So… If you want to seek nutritional advice, look for either a dietitian or a registered nutritionist. Dietitians are the gold standard of nutritional education, and you know that the advice you get will be evidence-based and tailor made for you!

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) have a great leaflet explaining the difference between nutritional professionals in more information.